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Tim Steadman joins Clifford Chance on 3 March and will work with partner Alan Elias and a team of seven fee-earners to develop the firm's non-contentious construction practice worldwide.
Steadman said the firm is targeting contractors, who are increasingly the originators and sponsors of deals now that there are fewer publicly funded projects.
"Contractors now need not only construction advice but also banking and finance advice. They need people who understand them," he said.
Rodney Short, head of Clifford Chance's international projects group, explained the new group had a broad remit, ranging from project finance through to property development and standalone building contracts.
To date, the firm's construction work was primarily domestic, and it was looking for construction lawyers to support the international side.
"We set up a major projects group nearly three years ago. We decided to increase the amount of sponsor work, because until then we carried out mainly lender work," Short said.
"We were looking to find a real leader," he said, adding that Steadman had a good reputation. "When we spoke to his clients they praised his commercial and not strictly legalistic approach."
Steadman spent 15 years at Baker & McKenzie, 10 of which were in Hong Kong. He was involved in teams advising on the privatised motorway projects in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Poland, as well as on port developments in the UK and the development of Hong Kong's new airport.
The new group will be recruiting lawyers in London and internationally.